Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ten Years After

Earlier this year I was looking at a plan for teaching American History to elementary school kids (something we're doing with our oldest two this year) and I was thrown off to see the September 11th attacks and the War on Terror as topics. Why put that into a history course? That's current events.

Then it struck me that none of my children were born at the time of the September 11th attacks. Indeed, it is as distant from them as the end of the Vietnam War was from me -- something I'd never found it odd to see covered as history. Somehow a lot of time has passed.

I walked in to work at 8:00 AM Pacific Time on September 11th, 2001. Normally I listened to news on the way in, but that morning I hadn't felt like news and so I'd been listening to a CD on the way in.

"I'll bet you'll always remember where you were this morning," my boss said, as I entered.

"Why?" I asked.

"Haven't you heard?"

I shook my head.

"We're at war," he said. "They've blown up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and who knows what's next. We're at war, but we don't know who with."

I wandered over to my desk, logged onto my computer, and pulled up Both towers were already down by 8AM Pacific, but in the chaos of the morning news wasn't always posted on the internet in order or as it happened, and we didn't have access to TV in the office.

Between being three hours off from the events, and not seeing any TV coverage until much later, I found myself feeling a strange distance from all that was going on -- as if it were in some other world. My co-workers wandered around and talked in small clumps. People talked about how their worlds had been turned upside down and life would never be the same -- the customer service pool debated whether the country should bomb Mecca or Baghdad first.

The news that had changed my world forever was when my wife had called me up the previous afternoon (September 10th) and told me that we were expecting our first child. The 11th was my parent's 25th anniversary, and we were scheduled to go out to dinner with them. We'd decided we'd tell them the news over dinner.

When evening came Los Angeles remained jumpy -- that we should somehow not be attacked as well seemed out of keeping with the West Coast mind. Lots of things were closed, and in keeping with the day we decided to have a quiet dinner at my parents house rather than trying to find a restaurant that was open.

Seven years later, our forth child and only boy was born on September 11th, 2008.

Looking back ten years after, I find myself with mixed memories and emotions -- national and familial. Ten years ago, the impact of the horrendous events of the day upon us were blunted by the worries and excitements of a newly married couple who had just learned they were pregnant. Today we attended a ceremony of payer and recollection at our parish after mass, and the parade in town. We celebrated Jack's third birthday. And I found myself thinking a great deal about how my parents would have been celebrating their 35th anniversary today, if my father were still alive.

The conjunction of all these, and my newfound realization that 9-11 is not just "current events" but "history" had me thinking about how much it affected the course of my life that I had found out I was a father the day before the attacks. Five years earlier I'd vacillated for months over whether to join the military (either service academy or ROTC) or simply head off to college, and my decision to stay civilian had been (perhaps childishly) much affected by the appearance half-way through the Clinton administration that the military had been relegated to social engineering experiments and incompetent "nation building". If 9-11 had caught me as a college senior worrying about how what to do when I graduated (and how to support the to-be MrsDarwin), nothing would have seemed more natural or in character than to sign up. As it is, it didn't even occur to me.


Lady.Rosary said...

I was at home watching t.v. when it happened. I think nobody will ever forget where they were that day of the attack. Our lives were changed forever.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

You know, you're the first person I know of who's said that there was actually something else looming larger for you than the terrorist attacks that day.

Josh and I were horrified, like everyone else; but his mother, who has always been dear to me, had just had a stroke a few days before. She wasn't that old, was in wonderful health, and had just gone back to work as a second-grade teacher. It was out of nowhere. We didn't know to what extent, if at all, she was going to recover.

9-11 seemed like a different kind of thing: an unimaginable horror, but far away, and despite the magnitudes of difference, not the thing that weighed on my heart right then.

JMB said...

Maybe geographical distance is the key here - we live 11 miles from Ground Zero and ll of our neighbors didn't return home that night. 26 in the town next door, many of them fathers of young families, a few parents of classmates of my children. I too had just learned that I was pregnant with our fourth child. I was lucky that my husband wasn't in NYC that day. So it's just all around us.

Darwin said...

I'm sure the distance is key -- we were living in Los Angeles, after all. Which in various ways is very nearly in another country. The nearest people I even slightly knew to the attacks were some business contacts in Paterson, NJ. It's not just that I didn't know anyone who'd died -- I didn't even know anyone who'd been in the city at the time.

Not only do we now live a couple thousand miles closer, but it was striking me on the anniversary that if there were in fact anniversary car bombings as some reports suggested, we'd be on tenderhooks thinking about our brother-in-law on Secret Service duty at the White House, and various people we know now in New York.

JMB said...

My younger brother was working in the White House at the time of the attacks. In fact, we knew he was ok because he was filmed running from the WH and the news just kept replaying the footage. We're like "Oh there he is again! Good thing he ran track in high school".

Anyway, it's strange how sometimes you forget stuff and it just comes back to you. On Thursday after the attack, I was in a mommy & me class and one of the moms lost her husband and this other mom said to her "Don't worry, he'll show up" and she said "No, he's dead". It was so matter of fact.

Another memory: We congregated at a friend's house who's husband was missing. Someone said that they needed cigarettes so I drove to the store and bought a pack and we all sat around and smoked and watched the tv and all the kids were running around. It was something out of the Cold War era or Appollo 16. That was the kind of day it was. My friend's husband did eventually return; he was on the 83rd floor of the second tower, but evacuated immediately and lived. Most of his work associates did not. He was in the original 93 attack and did not pay any attention to the PA telling everyone to return to their desks.

MrsDarwin said...

JMB, I (like Darwin, though probably more so) was almost insulated in the glow of first pregnancy. I never saw any of the footage, and since we were sent home from work -- at that time, I worked at a bookstore in a big mall, and since no one knew if the all-important West Coast was a target, things were closed down -- I spent most of the day sleeping off my five-week pregnant weariness. I was almost stupid with happiness in my little cocoon, and not much else penetrated.

In fact, it was only this very year, as we stood around the flagpole on Sunday and I watched the men in uniform salute as the flag was lowered to half-mast, as I worried about the safety of my brother-in-law on White House duty, that I felt drawn into the agony that must have attended the original attacks.

Emily J. said...

My version: both my parents and in-laws called to tell me to turn on the tv, which we kept on a rolling cart in the closet at the time. They both wanted to know if my husband, who's in the Navy, would have to be involved in some way. At the time, I very confidently reassured them that he was in engineering and had nothing to do with fighting wars. A year later he turned down a civilian job as an architect because we would have to move to New York. At the time we never would have guessed he would end up working in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Brandon said...

I didn't have any family or friends associated with New York at the time, and I was in graduate school in Canada at the time, to boot, and so at some remove from it all. But it made itself felt there, as well; not only does Toronto have significant ties to New York, Canada had to take all the commercial planes. The U.S. almost completely shut down its airspace: except for emergencies and the like, planes were diverted away from the United States left and right; Canada shut down its airspace, too, but took in almost all of the US-bound planes that were already too far to turn back (without hesitation, despite terrorism worries, which I've always thought rather admirable, since I'm not actually sure that we would do the same), and had to spend a few days dealing with a very large and unexpected influx of Americans with nowhere to stay. That's most of what I remember from the time: the Canadian government constantly scrambling to find room for the people and the planes as airports rapidly filled up; over 200 planes had to be landed in a matter of hours and all the people found places to stay. Then, starting September 12 they all had to be sent off again, which lasted for several days.

I was sleeping in that day; I had turned on the television and seen it, but turned it off again, groggily not really realizing what was going on, and gone back to sleep; it didn't really sink in until my Peruvian landlady came excitedly pounding on the door, shouting that the United States had been attacked and was at war; then I turned the TV on and watched one of the towers come down -- the second, I think. A lot of people seem to remember things vividly; for me everything was in a bit of a daze the whole day.

JMB said...

Mrs. Darwin,
When is your daughter's birthday? Ours is May 13. I don't normally smoke when pregnant (or in real life for that matter!) but that day defied all others:( Too many lives lost, including our good friend and neighbor Dave, daily communicant and father of four. And some college friends too.

MrsDarwin said...

I was due on May 13, but she was born on May 10. We must have been right on schedule together.

hierogamous said...

I was at Our Lady of Gethsemani Monastery in KY when I heard the news -- when the monks called for prayers between thier regular prayer times. I didn't see the TV reports until days later. Even so it took me a while to deal with it. I wrote: "Why, O Lord": Why, O Lord, do you stand far off and pay our woes no heed, While innocents have lost their lives, 'cause of some scoundels' deed? They lurk like lions in a thicket, their victims to devour, The helpless are crushed and laid low, fallen under their power.